Leadership: September 5, 2003

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One of the lessons of World War II was the need for senior commanders to get up front where the fighting was. This was often not done, because if the division, corps, or even army commander, was up front, he was difficult to contact when his key subordinates and staff officers had to confer with him. The Germans developed a system, which was copied by other nations, that allowed the commanders chief of staff to basically run the unit while the boss was away visiting the troops. But it required a special chemistry between the commander and his chief of staff to make this work. Often the chemistry didn't exist, and the commander stayed with his headquarters most of the time. 

Over the last sixty years, much effort has gone into building "tactical command posts" that allow the commander to get up front, or just move around more, without losing touch. In World War II this was a couple of armored personnel carriers and trucks, equipped with lots of radios. But radio has its limitations in transferring all the data a senior commander needs to stay on top of things. When the U.S. Army decided to embrace Internet technology in the 1990s, a solution, called C2V, seemed at hand, and it got a workout in Iraq. 

A 33 ton Command and Control Vehicle Mission Module System (C2V MMS, or C2V for short) provided a very mobile headquarters. Based on the M-2 Bradley Infantry Fighting vehicle, it provides a moving command post equipped with all the radios, satellite communications, computers and large video displays needed to run a war. Still, it gets pretty cramped in what is essentially a 10x15 foot room. But during the Iraq campaign, division commanders found that satellite communications, a 33 foot radio tower, and PCs enabled them to keep up with, keep track of and maintain control of their troops. The radio tower could only be extended when the vehicle was stationary, but the satellite radio links proved adequate in most cases. If the commander could scrounge up enough bandwidth, he could even hold a video conference with his key staff officers to the rear with the bulk of the division headquarters. 

A division headquarters has several hundred troops working out of trucks and tents, and has to stop and set up. The C2V vehicle allowed the commander to keep operating on the move. Battalion, brigade and division headquarters have been using five ton trucks with expanding sides (Expando Vans), and still use them for their headquarters. But these trucks have to stop, pull out the van sides and set up the interiors before the staffs can get to work. One proposal that's kicking around is to take 20 foot cargo containers, riding on the back of a cross country truck (the HEMTT), and install equipment in these containers (as well as heat and air conditioning). This may happen, because a division or brigade headquarters has a lot of people at work, mainly on logistics, planning and intelligence. 

Another idea is to leave most of the staff people someplace safe, maybe even back in the U.S., and let them stay in touch electronically. Sort of a "back office" solution. This runs into problems with the need for staff officers to get out with the troops to unsnarl problems occasionally. But it's another of those many ideas being thrown at the problems created when you have very fast moving combat operations. The C2V ran into problems initially, and was threatened with cancellation at least once. Already, computer software is replacing some staff personnel, and some of the work that staff troops used to do is now done by troops far to the rear (often back in the United States.)

The U.S. Army has been preaching speed, and more speed, for the last three decades. Iraq showed how speed can be decisive. C2V will probably be the first of many innovations to make brigade and division headquarters smaller and more mobile.

 


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